Hunter Daniel might play a role for Tennessee against Vanderbilt.
Then again, he might not when the Vols (22-22, 7-14 SEC) play the Commodores (21-23, 9-12) today at 6 p.m. to start a three-game series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The former Bearden High School standout may spend much of the weekend in the dugout, but you won't hear him complaining.
During his four years at UT, Daniel has made one adjustment after another. Recruited as a pitcher, Daniel, a redshirt junior, hopes to get on the field as a first baseman, a position he played at Bearden while not pitching.
"I don't have any regrets," Daniel said Thursday. "I came in here and I worked hard. I've had to earn everything I've gotten here."
Not a surprise to Daniel.
His father, Jeff, told Hunter before he signed with UT that competition for playing time would be at a premium.
"He said, 'Son, you might not get to play as much if you go to play at high Division I school in the SEC. You might get to play more if you went to a smaller mid-major school,' " Hunter recalls. "But this is where I wanted to come. I wanted to try and prove myself in the SEC. I've gotten to do that on a couple of chances, so looking back, I don't have any regrets."
Daniel, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander, flourished as a pitcher in his senior season at Bearden in 2008 — posting a 9-0 record and 0.87 ERA.
Former UT coach Todd Raleigh signed Daniel as a pitcher. Daniel took a redshirt year in 2009, and again, has no regrets about it.
"I think that helped me a lot to kind of mature, because I had to explain to people (who asked): 'Why are you redshirting?' " Daniel said. "It helped humble me very easily, and I think that's helped me later on in life."
As a redshirt freshman in 2010, Daniel pitched 5 1/3 innings and didn't give up an earned run.
Before last season, Raleigh and his staff wanted Daniel to switch to a sidearm delivery. No problem, Daniel told them.
"That was more to just kind of find my niche in the program because I was just a lefty throwing 80, 83 miles an hour, and they wanted me to find something that would be a little more deceptive for the hitters," Daniel said. "So I went with that last year, and I got to play quite a bit, so I was all for that."
Daniel appeared in 17 games last season, threw 10 2/3 innings, and was 0-0 with a 9.28 ERA.
Shortly after the season ended, Raleigh was fired.
"My relationship with (Raleigh) was fine," Daniel said. "Everybody had their ups and downs with it, but it was a lot (about) my teammates. We stuck it out. We wanted to be here. We wanted to win at Tennessee, and I'm glad I stayed here."
More change was in store for Daniel as Dave Serrano replaced Raleigh.
Serrano and the new staff asked Daniel before the season started if he
would consider playing some first base. Sure, Daniel told them.
Daniel has only pitched in one game this season — he allowed three earned runs against Louisiana-Monroe in two-thirds innings (40.50 ERA) – and has played in six games with two starts at first base. He is 0-for-5.
"It's exciting for me because (first base is) where I used to play and I love playing there," Daniel said. "It's just another opportunity to maybe get on the field some and travel with the guys, so I was all for it."
Daniel will graduate this spring, be done with baseball, and start pursuing a career in sports management/business. He cherishes being a member of Serrano's first team at UT.
"I'm really proud to say that I was part of the first team that they had," Daniel said. "That's something that they've really emphasized with this team, is that no matter what the record is at the end of the season, where we make it, this will always be their first team and the base for what they're going to build here, so I'm very proud to be a part of that."
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.